|Humanity: A Muslim Perspective||Humanity: A Christian Perspective||Points of Agreement and Disagreement||Points for Further Discussion|
In Jewish and Christian tradition, God created human beings according to the stories found in Genesis chapters 1-2. Genesis 1 tells us that God created human beings in the sixth day, “in his image.”
So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
There are two very important points here, fundamental to all later Christian (and Jewish) tradition. First, it is God who created human beings. Human beings are not merely products of nature, nor of fate and chance, but are intended by God. The story does not tell us how God created human beings (see below), only that God is the ultimate creator of human beings. Second, we are told that humans are made in God’s image. This is not said of the animals, only of humans. But the text does not tell us exactly what this means. Theologians in the Christian tradition, such as Augustine and Aquinas, noted that humans were also given dominion over all living things (Gen. 1:28). Augustine writes: “From this [human dominion over the animals we are to understand that man was made to the image of God in that part of his nature wherein he surpasses the brute beasts. This is of course his reason or mind or intelligence…” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book I, chap. 20.30—ET New York: Paulist Press, 1982, Vol 1: p.96). So Christian tradition located the ‘image’ in human reason or intellect, by which we know God, and govern the animals. Modern scriptural commentators however emphasize the role of dominion or stewardship which was given by God to human beings. In this sense of ‘image’ human beings are God’s representatives or stewards or trustees, charged with the stewardship of God’s creation—a noble but demanding responsibility.
The last line of Genesis 1:27 says that humans were created male and female. This implies of course that human beings are created in relationship, not alone. The Christian tradition has emphasized two points here: first, that each human being is created in God’s image. This is the basis for the Christian belief that each human person, made in God’s image, has intrinsic rights which cannot be arbitrarily taken away by the state or violated by other persons. But in addition to this, human beings are created in relationship with one another and with God. Christian tradition has also held, therefore, that human life can only be fulfilled in communal relationships and in relationship with God. Finally, this text was used by Jesus himself as the basis for Christian monogamous marriage: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Mark 10:6-7).
There is a second story in Genesis (Gen 2:4b-25) about the creation of human beings. Here God forms the first man from the dust (or dirt) of the ground “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Human beings, then, are formed from the matter of the earth, but also from God’s spirit; human are, therefore, spirit and matter, integrated into a single living being. Later in the story God formed the animals, and later still, made the first woman from the rib of the man. The point of this story is not that woman should be subordinate to man, but that the two are intimately related; it is a justification of marriage (Gen 2:23-24).
It is clear in the Hebrew scriptures that human beings are meant to live in relationship with one another, but also in relationship with God. For this reason, God instituted covenants with the people, through Abraham, through Moses, and through David. Later, in the New Testament, according to Christian belief, God initiates a new covenant through Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, Jesus is seen as the messiah, the incarnate Logos of God (John 1), and as the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews). In Jesus’ vision, human life is meant to be lived in submission to God. God’s kingdom or reign, which is the heart of Jesus’ preaching, is simply the submission of the world and humanity to God’s will. God is love, and Jesus two great commandments are based on Love: “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like unto it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Both of these commandments are taken, almost verbatim, from the Hebrew scriptures; the first is the Shema (Deut. 6:5), the second from Leviticus (19:18). These commandments also sum up the Ten Commandments, the first four of which relate to the love of God, and the last six to the love of neighbor. The purpose and fulfillment of human life, then, is found in love. Persons are not fulfilled individually, but in community.
The New Testament holds up a beautiful vision of humanity being invited to share in the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit (I Cor. 13), to participate in the divine presence (John 14), and to become children of God. Paul writes: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom. 8:14). Jesus prays to God at the end of the great discourse in John’s gospel “that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
In Christian belief, this relationship with God is carried on even after death. Christians, and other believers, hope that they will be resurrected and live in communion with one another and with God in heaven. This is the end and goal of human life.
Modern biology has made it clear that humanity evolved gradually from primate ancestors over hundreds of thousands of years. This is supported not only by the fossil record, but even more so by the evidence of molecular biology (see Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, 2nd edition, Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999). This theory challenges a literal reading of the Genesis creation stories--that is, reading them as if they were meant to be science or history. Modern exegetes however read the stories in Genesis as symbolic stories which tell us, through symbols, spiritual and theological truths about God and God's relation with humanity. Humanity being made in God's image is a good example of such a symbol. Almost no one reads this to mean that human beings look just like God; if this were the case, God would be located in space and time.
If we read the Genesis accounts as symbolic stories, which reveal spiritual truths about humanity and our relation to God, then there is no reason that these stories have to clash with evolutionary theory. The official Roman Catholic position is that while God may have created the human body through a long process of evolution, God creates each human soul directly, so that each person is truly a child of God. This is a middle position between those Christians who reject evolution, and who read the Genesis accounts as the literal history of the creation of humanity, and more scientifically minded Christians who support evolution, but who would also argue that the soul or self develops gradually in each human being, and does not exist separately from the body.
Indeed, there is growing evidence that human beings in this life are psychophysical unities, that is, that the states of our bodies, especially our brains, affects our minds, and our minds in turn affect our brains. Nonetheless, even while recognizing that in this life human beings are psychophysical unities, it is possible to defend the view that the human soul survives after the death of the body (see Terence Nichols, The Sacred Cosmos, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003, chapters 6 &7).
What happens to human beings after bodily death? Traditionally, in Christianity, each human being is judged by God at death (see entry "Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell"). The irrevocably wicked find themselves in hell (not because God in his anger puts them there, but because they have chosen in this life to reject God). The blessed find themselves in the presence of God, in heaven, because that is what they have chosen in this life. Catholics hold that many souls, who have chosen for God in this life, but are not yet perfect in their love of God and neighbor, go to a state in which their love is gradually purified. Traditionally this is called Purgatory. Protestants typically reject the existence of Purgatory, and hold that at death each human being goes directly to heaven or hell
Muslims and Christians agree that God created humanity, gifted human beings with reason and free choice, and charged them with the responsibility of the stewardship of creation. This is one of the meanings of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26); “image” means a representative who is to care for the creation as God would. This is the meaning of God giving human beings “dominion” over the earth, and of the story in Genesis 2 of God setting the human being in the garden “to till an to keep it.” Similarly, in the Qur'an, human beings are to be the kalipha, that is, vicegerents, stewards, or trustees of God in the care of creation. Such a responsibility means that human beings must have the ability to know what God expects them to do, and the freedom to follow God’s commands.
Further, both traditional Muslims and traditional Christians agree that human beings will be resurrected, will be held accountable by God in a final judgment, and will end in either heaven or hell.
The Qur'an says that God asked human beings before they were born on earth, “Am I not your Lord?” And the human responded ‘Yes.’ There is almost no tradition in Christianity of God appearing to human beings before their creation on the earth. Origin speculated about a preexistence of souls, who fell before their earthly existence. But this idea has never received any significant following in Christianity. Rather, human beings are first created when they are conceived in the womb.
A more striking difference is that Christians have traditionally explained human alienation from God as due to original sin, whereas Muslims explain this as due to “forgetfulness.” The doctrine of original sin is that the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, had consequences for all human progeny. All of Adam and Eve’s children, and all subsequent progeny were born outside the Garden of Eden, that is, outside of the full presence of God. This was later explained theologically by the idea that in Adam (and Eve) all of human nature existed, and fell away from God, so that all subsequent generations of human beings were born partially alienated from God. As Augustine put it, we are born with our wills turned in upon ourselves, that is, we are born selfish, and can only come to love God fully through grace.
Both Jews and Muslims reject the Christian doctrine of original sin. How do Muslim explain the fact that human beings are not fully at one with God? By the doctrine of forgetfulness; humans are good, free, and responsible, but have forgotten about God. Therefore they need prophets and revelation to remind them about God and God’s commands, and they need frequent prayers to keep from forgetting God each day. A prominent Muslim teaching is taquid, “Being conscious of God.”